19 October 2020

Armand Durand; or, A Summer Project

Armand Durand; ou, La promesse accomplie
    [Armand Durand; or, A Promise Fulfilled]
Madame Leprohon [Rosanna Eleanor Leprohon;
    trans, J.-A.  Genaud], 
Montreal: Beauchemin, 1894
367 pages

In her time, Rosanna Eleanor Leprohon – Madame Leprohon – was more popular with francophones than anglophones, so does it not make sense to tackle this, her third novel, in translation? I thought so. It was my summer project. That the season ended weeks ago speaks to my inabilities, and is no reflection on the novel itself. The story is simple and has a rushed, rather predictable conclusion – but it is deftly told and is populated by fully-drawn characters who live in a Quebec the author knew well.

The novel begins with Paul Durand, descendant of the earliest settlers of New France, who has come to inherit a large and profitable farm in "the seigneurie of — Alonville we will call it — on the banks of the St. Lawrence."* Handsome and hardworking Paul has put off marriage so as not to impose upon his mother, who had lived many, many years in the Durand family farmhouse... until she didn't.

I shouldn't be so flippant. Mère Durand is depicted as a fine woman. After her death, son Paul looks to be in no hurry to take a bride — but then he encounters Geneviève Audut. Newly arrived from France, delicate Geneviève is employed as governess to a pair of thoroughly dislikable children related to the seigneur. Geneviève herself is a relation —a poor relation — whom no one treats her particularly well. Her charges are the worst: "Mamma says we will never learn anything till we have a tutor, and that she would get us one to-morrow, only she does not know what to do with you. No body will marry you as you have no dot."

After overhearing this little shit, Paul proposes to Geneviève, which in turn sends the women of Alonville into a tizzy:
What could he see in her, indeed, a little doll-faced creature with no life or gaiety in her, to bewitch him in such a manner? What made him marry a stranger when there were plenty of smart handsome girls in his own village that he had known ever since they wore pinafores?
Much to their delight, Geneviève proves a disaster in keeping a farmhouse, but Paul Durand loves her to the end... which comes when she gives birth to the titular character. 

Again, I shouldn't be so flippant. Though I could see it coming, Madame Leprohon's description of Geneviève's death touches the heart.

Believing that his infant son is in need of a mother, Paul marries spinster Eulalie Messier, a plain-featured woman of good character, who had been generally recognized as Alonville's youngest spinster. His new bride loves and cares for the infant Armand Durand as her own, and Paul comes to love her as a result. Eulalie wasn't so old an old maid that she couldn't provide her husband with another son. They name him Paul, after his father.

And then, she dies.

I fear I've made Armand Durand seem gothic, when it is really a mélange of melodrama and literary realism. Its depictions of French Canadian traditions and society, which Mary Jane Edwards suggests is the reason behind Madame Leprohon's popularity, was just one element that kept me reading.

With Eulalie's death, focus shifts to the two Durand boys and their schooling at "the old Montreal College." Armand, the more retiring of the two, is the intellectual. Paul, though younger, is both literally and figuratively the bigger brother. He has confidence and brash. Poor Armand, so pretty and slight, becomes a target of his fellow classmates. "Miss Armand," as he's called, is bullied to a point at which he lashes out, bloodying the brute Rodolphe Belfond, after which the two become fast friends.

As the title suggests, Armand comes to take the place of the main character. Paul fis begins to fade with the end of their schooldays, returning to Alonville to help run the family farm. Armand remains in Montreal, working for a lawyer, with the goal of becoming one himself. It all makes sense, and works well until jealousy rears its ugly head. On visits to Montreal, Paul feels like a country bumpkin, and comes to resent the money their father sends to help support Armand. He begins a campaign of lies, implying that the funds are wasted on drink and dandyism. The scheming reaches its apex when Paul Durand pere lies in his deathbed as Paul fis intercepts letters addressed to his older brother. The upshot is that Armand Durand is disinherited.   

Madame Leprohon's greatest challenge in writing this novel must surely have had to do with events following the father's death. Armand marries Delima Laurin, his landlady's niece. Written this way, the decision seems so rash, and yet this reader understood the proposal of marriage and its timing. Sadly, Armand and Delima soon prove themselves ill-suited. 

I'll write no more for fear of spoiling things... and because I'm hoping you'll read it.

I found Armand Durand to be one the finest Canadian novels of the nineteenth-century.

Am I wrong?

Was something gained in translation?

* All quotes come from Rosanna Eleanor Leprohon's original text.  

Object: A fragile volume printed on thin paper, bound in embossed scarlet boards, my copy once belonged to the Bibliotheque de Chénéville. It was purchased earlier this year from a Gatineau bookseller. Price: C$19.41. I see no evidence that it was a discard. Should I be concerned?

Access: Armand Durand first appeared as a serial on 1 October 1868 in the Montreal Daily News. That same year, the novel was published in book form by John Lovell. That edition can be read — gratis — through this link at the Internet Archive.

The novel is in print today, with introduction by Loraine McMullen and Elizabeth Waterston, as part of Tecumseh's Early Canadian Women Writers Series. It can be ordered here, thorough the press.

Pay no heed to print on demand vultures. Take it from a Montrealer, this isn't Quebec:

The Tecumseh edition aside, I see no copies of Armand Durand — English or French —listed for sale online.

As might be expected, this once-popular novel has come to be the stuff of academe. The only copy I see in a public library can be found in Toronto.

13 October 2020

M'Lord, I Am Not Guilty: Title, Cover, Confession

The new Ricochet edition of Frances Shelley Wees's I Am Not Guilty arrived in my rural mailbox last week, meaning that it is well on its way to the very best Canadian bookstores. A proud papa, I can't help but note that its publication coincides with the tenth anniversary of the Ricochet Books imprint.

Wees was one of this country's earliest and most prolific mystery writers, and yet she has no Canadian Encylopedia entry. Her name is not so much mentioned in the Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature. What I know about the author and her work was derived from old newspaper articles and reviews read on microfilm. In all that fast-forwarding and rewinding, it became clear that two of her novels, M'Lord, I Am Not Guilty (1954) and The Keys to My Prison (1956), had been particularly well received back in the day. I bought and read The Keys of My Prison five years ago. Ten months later, it was reissued as the eleventh Ricochet Books title.

After that, I turned my attention to Wees's 1958 mystery Where is Jenny Now? I'm a sucker for titles that ask a question. Is anything better than Trollope's Can You Forgive Her? Should I have ended that sentence with a second question mark? I don't think so. Who knows? In any case, Where is Jenny Now? turned out to be disappointing.

Next up was This Necessary Murder (1957). Another good title, but like Where Is Jenny Now?, it is not the author's best work.

M'Lord, I Am Not Guilty is the very opposite of a good title, which is why I avoided the novel for so long. It wasn't until last August, five years into my exploration of Wees's work, that I managed to turn the title page. What I found on the other side was a clever and intriguing tale of domestic suspense, every bit as captivating as The Keys of My Prison.

And so, I proposed M'Lord, I Am Not Guilty as the next Ricochet Book, all the while shuddering over the title. I considered reissuing the novel as I Am Not Guilty, but this only made me unhappy. Who am I to retitle a work? But then I found this, on the inside flap of the Doubleday first edition:

I was pleased, the author's estate was pleased, and so we progressed to the cover.

A series devoted to post-war Canadian noir, Ricochet covers use vintage artwork from decades-old editions. The options have at times been overwhelming – as in the case of John Buell's The Pyx – but not so with M'Lord, I Am Not Guilty. It was first published by Doubleday as a hardcover:

What do you think?

I quite like the dust jacket because it was so like a film noir title screen, all the while recognizing that it doesn't really lend itself to Ricochet's mass market format. My only complaint is that "A NOVEL OF SUSPENSE" isn't given more play. 

Can you see it? It's there in the bottom right-hand corner.

The Doubleday edition found alternate life through the publisher's book club, after which it disappeared. Curiously, given Wees's low profile in this country, the novel next saw print in Northern Lights, a bulky 1960 Doubleday Book Club anthology devoted to Canadian fiction. It wasn't until 1967, a full thirteen years after M'Lord, I Am Not Guilty last saw print on its own, that it appeared in paperback. In keeping with the time, publisher Pyramid gave it the look of a gothic romance.

The novel is anything but a gothic romance.

So, which to choose?

I was pushing for the Doubleday, until I remembered that as Mylord, ich bin nicht schuldig the novel had enjoyed two German editions. Much as I like the author photo, the cover of the first, a hardcover published by Goldmann in 1960, didn't quite work.

A later Goldmann paperback from Goldmann, made the grade. Adapted by J.W. Stewart, it serves as the cover of this sixteenth Ricochet title.

I'm hoping that the seventeenth will be a novel I reviewed here earlier this year.

Any guesses?

Related posts:

12 October 2020

Doctor Logan's Ode for Thanksgiving Day

Verse for the day by son of Antigonish J.D. Logan. This version is taken from his Songs of the Makers of Canada and Other Homeland Lyrics (Toronto: Briggs, 1911).

An Ode for Thanksgiving Day
Land blest with youth and strength, with wealth and peace—
These are thy dower with which to rear a realm
Where men shall own their full enfranchisement
In recompense for purer purposes
Than elder empires' sordid gluttonies.

These are senescent now. The frosts of Fate
Have touched their Tree of Life: the blighted leaves
Are dropping swift and yellowing in decay
Autumnal:—and in His own time Who plans
The universal destiny and doom,
Profoundest glacial snows shall cover them
And no requick'ning sun shall rise to melt
Their gelid grave. Forever they shall lie
Wrapt up in silence in their lethal bed.

But thou, young Titan of the West, whose years
Are leafy yet, thy branches full of sap,
And green already with Life's ampler deeds,
Give thanks, this day, for thy predestined task!
For He whose throne is everywhere, and guides
The courses of the million million worlds,
Hath consecrated thee—thy youth and strength,
Thy peace and gifts of earthly plenitude—
To service for our race—disquieted
By Mammon's crew—till we at length behold
The Dayspring of the Brotherhood of Man.

Give thanks, and trust thy sons, O Canada—
Their prayers are with thee and their present deeds
Are fateful of the nobler race to come!
E'en now upon thy brow the radiance shines
Of lofty Statehood, unassorted and free,
While unseen hands unfold thy destiny.
Wishing all a happy and safe Thanksgiving.

14 September 2020

The Atomic Dale; or, The Mounties Mess Up?

Dale of the Mounted: Atomic Plot
Joe Holliday
Toronto: Allen, [1959]
158 pages

The ninth in the twelve-volume Dale of the Mounted series, Atomic Plot is a novel I'd long wanted to read, but stubbornness stood in my way. For years, I watched copies being bought and sold online, all the while convinced I'd stumble upon one at a garage sale or thrift store.

I scored Atlantic Assignment, my first Dale, at a Friends of the St Marys Public Library book sale. Dale of the Mounted in the Northwest was found at a yard sale ten minutes from our home. I can't remember how I came to own Dale of the Mounted in Newfoundland. All that effort, all that searching, and yet Atomic Plot remained elusive.

Then came this generous gift from Chris Otto of Papergreat.

Dale of the Mounted: Atlantic Assignment is one the most amusing novels I've ever read. I enjoyed it so much that I reworked my original review for inclusion in The Dusty Bookcase book. Rereading those reviews today, after Atomic Plot, has me wondering whether I wasn't too harsh on the mountie.

Hear me out.

Dale of the Mounted: Atomic Plot opens at Ottawa's Uplands Airport – now Macdonald-Cartier International – where Constable Dale Thompson awaits the arrival of Doctor Sachi Rami, "a man learned in physics, a man whose knowledge the atomic sciences made him one of the leading figures in the Far East field of atomic energy." A Pakistani (Holliday refers to his nationality as "Pakistan"), Rami is travelling from his home country so that he might study the nuclear reactors at Chalk River Laboratories. Dale's assignment is to protect the doctor and his travelling party while they're in the country. He's been informed, by the Deputy Commissioner no less, that "certain fanatical, political groups in India" look to prevent Rami from taking this "atomic knowledge" back to Pakistan.

Rami arrives on a Trans-Canada Air Lines Viscount, accompanied by an imposing Sikh bodyguard, and a young secretary named Kelomé. As he disembarks, the doctor is attacked by a fellow passenger. The bodyguard takes action, throwing the assailant off the stairway and onto the tarmac. Dale rushes Rami and his party into an awaiting limousine and they head off to a suite that has been reserved at the Château Laurier. From there, the constable phones RCMP headquarters to report the incident:
The Deputy Commissioner finally came on the telephone. His instructions were, as usual, short and to the point. "I want you to make arrangements to be with Doctor Sachi Rami at all times. I understand he has some sort of Sikh bodyguard with him, but I want you to be personally responsible for him!" 
Let us pause to consider:

The RCMP has received intelligence that a group of Indian fanatics look to target a prominent Pakistani scientist on Canadian soil. The threat is taken so seriously that the Deputy Commissioner is personally involved, and yet he assigns just one member of the force to provide security for the scientist and his companions. That man, Constable Dale Thompson, holds the lowest rank in the RCMP. When told of the thwarted attack at the airport, the Deputy Commission does nothing more than repeat his original instructions. No additional security is provided.

And now, consider this:

The following afternoon, a Pakistan High Commission limousine arrives to transport Rami and his party to Rockcliffe, where they are to watch the famous RCMP Musical Ride. The chauffeur, Dale has been told, knows the area well, and yet – curiously – needs directions. On the drive back, Dale notices that they're being followed by an old Pontiac. This doesn't prevent him from directing the chauffeur to Nepean Point, so that the foreign visitors can admire the view. The Pontiac follows the limo into the park, but Dale dismisses this as a coincidence. There's a sudden flurry of activity as the chauffeur points the limo toward the river and leaps from the vehicle. Dale grabs the wheel. The Pontiac rams their car, picks up the chauffeur, and takes off. Rami and company receive minor injuries. It's later discovered that the actual High Commission chauffeur had lost the limo to a carjacking.

So, where are we now?

There have been two assassination attempts in the first twenty-four hours, and Dale was present for both. He thought nothing about the High Commission chauffeur's ignorance, and wasn't concerned about the Pontiac. The Deputy Commissioner doesn't remove Dale from the case, nor does he assign additional members of the force. It's off to Chalk River!

Chalk River Laboratories in 1958
Things slow down at this point so as to familiarize the reader with Chalk River Laboratories, the "famed Colombo Plan," and Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. Eight pages are devoted to a high school-level physics lecture delivered to visiting students from "Ottawa University." Dozens more pages are sacrificed to the nature of the atom, descriptions of Chalk River's various reactors, a Van der Graaff generator, the various vehicles owed by the facility, living accommodations offered to employees of AECL, and the municipal status of nearby Deep River. Mixed into all this are dribs and drabs of plot and plotting, as when copper medallions turn up in the doctor's room and those of his companions. A panicked Rami hands his over to Dale:

Now, one-third of the way through my second Dale of the Mounted book, I'd come to know the man. It was for this reason that it came as no surprise that the constable fails to inform the Deputy Commissioner of this turn of events. Dale rarely checks in – though, to be fair, no one at RCMP headquarters expects him to do so.

Days pass.

Dale notices that three Indian atomic scientists are also visiting Chalk River. Quite by chance, he discovers that Kelomé, Dr Rami's secretary, is secretly communicating with the trio. Next, a shipment of uranium rods is found to be faulty, and the truck returning them to the manufacturer is hijacked. A second truck arrives carrying the very same rods. The driver is held. Fingerprints are sent to the RCMP in Ottawa, where it's discovered that he's the owner of the Pontiac used to ram the limousine at Nepean Point.

Do the RCMP send more officers to Chalk River?

They do not.

The truck driver is killed, and two guards are injured, when the car in which they are travelling is forced off the road by another carrying the three Indian scientists.

Dale encourages the trio's release:

Dale uses the very same wait-and-see tactic in Atlantic Assignment – which, I remind, is an earlier adventure – resulting in the escape of a saboteur, the kidnappings of two servicemen (one of whom is left blind), the loss of two Royal Canadian Navy Grumman Avengers, and the near destruction of HMCS Bonaventure.

Despite Dale's history, the Deputy Commissioner agrees to the plan, adding that two more constables will be assigned in the case. Unfortunately, they never arrive. Did the Deputy Commissioner forget? Did Joe Holliday? Either way, things go very badly... after several pages devoted to the Betameter, sodium 24, and cobalt-60. Somewhere in the mix, we learn that the man who had attacked Rami at Uplands Airport escaped RCMP custody, only to be shot dead by his compatriots.

At long last, the Indian scientists, who we now know to be fanatics, attack as Dale, Rami, the bodyguard, and Kelomé are watching the installation of new uranium rods in the NRX reactor. What follows doesn't make much sense. Keith Ward's jacket illustration reflects its weakness in that five more figures should feature. Confusion often accompanies violence, but here the fault lies in Holliday's inability to keep track of his characters. Any description of the action would be pointless; it is the outcome that matters:
  • Kelomé has been revealed as one of the Indian fanatics;
  • an employee has suffered a blow to the head and a six-foot fall;
  • a broken uranium rod has caused a deadly build-up of radiation;
  • two of the Indian fanatics died of gunshot wounds;
  • the third Indian fanatic stole a truck, only to die in a crash;
  • the NRX reactor has to be shut down for several months. 
It was Kelomé who shot and killed the two Indians because – I'm guessing – she was angry that the attack didn't come off exactly as planned. Her motivation isn't clear.

And what of the fanatics? Was their real goal to destroy the reactor? Why didn't Kelomé shoot Rami when she had the chance? Why didn't her fellow fanatics? What were they all about, anyway? "These [Indian] fanatics are utterly opposed to atomic energy and want no part of this knowledge to come to their country," the Deputy Commissioner says when handing Dale the assignment; yet, Kelomé aside, each of the fanatics involved were atomic scientists.

In the closing pages, the reader learns that Kelomé herself is expected to suffer an agonizing death as ta result of her exposure to the broken uranium rod... and so, everything wraps up nicely:
Dale and the RCMP, satisfied that the danger to the Pakistan doctor and his party was now over, decided there was no further need for Dale to act as daily bodyguard.
I wouldn't have thought that fanatical groups give up so easily – but then, what do I know about security, law enforcement, and intelligence?

For that matter, what do Dale and the RCMP?

Editorial note: Everything I've read about the Khaksar Movement suggests it is grossly mischaracterized by Holliday.

Favourite passage: It should come as no surprise that Dale's main contact at Chalk River Laboratories isn't its Chief of Security, but a public relations man named Clyde Karnell. After the novel's climax, the character exits the book thusly:
"Boy! It's going to be dull when you leave Chalk and Deep River. We haven't had that much excitement since the NRX blew its stack in 1952! Well! see [sic] you tomorrow1" He put on his jacket and departed.
Here the public relations man is referencing an event that is generally considered the first serious accident involving a nuclear reactor. It is rated 5 on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale. For the sake of comparison, Three Mile Island shares the very same rating.

Mea culpa: I've broken a New Year's resolution.

Object and Access: A slim volume bound in burgundy boards with blue text. Dale of the Mounted: Atomic Plot enjoyed one printing with Thomas Allen. An American edition was published in 1959 by Pennington Press.

One copy of the Pennington edition is listed for sale online. Priced at US$8.18, is it a bargain? It has no dust jacket. A Good+ (w/ Good dust jacket) copy of the Allen edition is on offer from an Edmonton bookseller. Price C$13.00. Needless to say, this is the one to purchase.

Library and Archives Canada and seven of our academic libraries have copies.

Related post:

12 September 2020

A Tom Ardies Cover Cavalcade

Tom Ardies
New York: Doubleday, 1973
A follow-up to my most recent CNQ review

In Tom Ardies' first novel, Their Man in the White House, hero Charlie Sparrow fails to thwart the Russians from installing a pawn as President of the United States. In Sparrow's last adventure, Pandemic, he tries to prevent a worldwide epidemic. I haven't read the latter, so have no idea whether he succeeds.

Here's hoping.

Their Man in the White House has an unusual publishing history. The first edition, from McClelland & Stewart, was published in September 1971. Macmillan followed a week or two later with the first UK edition. Two years later, a cheap Panther paperback hit the racks. And yet, this most American of thrillers has never been published the United States.

Of the three editions, I think Justin Todd's McClelland & Stewart cover is the best. True, the White House isn't white, but I like to think the artist, an Englishman, made it brown in recognition of the events of 24 August 1814, the day his countrymen and mine set Washington alight. How else to explain the plumes of smoke?

The Macmillan edition errs in its depiction of President Davis Marshall and his daughter Lisa, both of whom are described in the novel as being extremely attractive. 

The Panther edition is elusive, but I've managed a small screen capture:

More Robert E. Howard than Cold War thriller, wouldn't you say?

The best Ardies cover ever is Fawcett's paperback edition of his second novel This Suitcase is Going to Explode. Published in 1976, it features a hologram:

Unusual for the time, this detail gives some idea of the effect:

So much better than the Hachette French translation, don't you think?

The cover of Une Valise qui explose is every bit as lazy as McClelland & Stewart's nonsensical Kosygin is Coming (1974).

A thriller set in Vancouver, Kosygin is Coming is Ardies' biggest selling novel. Angus & Robinson's UK first edition makes the city look like Manhattan. 

As far as I've been able to determine, the Vancouver Police Department has never flown helicopters with pontoons. Having lived more than a decade in Vancouver, I can attest that its street lights aren't nearly so low to the ground.

Kosygin is Coming isn't much of a title; I much prefer Russian Roulette, the title given the 1975 screen adaptation starring George Segal. PaperJacks, publisher of some of the ugliest paperbacks this country has ever seen, really rose to the occasion with the movie tie-in.

However did PeperJacks manage it? By using the lobby poster, of course.

For all their flaws, the most interesting Tom Ardies covers are the earliest. Kosygin is Coming was followed by In a Lady's Service (1976), Palm Springs (1978)...

...then a sixteen year silence. Tom Ardies returned in with Balboa Firefly, published under the nom de plume "Jack Trolley."

Balboa Firefly
New York: Carroll & Graf, 1974

In the interim, covers had become cheaper to produce and a whole lot less imaginative. Going by the reviews, the novels Ardies wrote as Trolley are his very best. I'm ashamed to admit I haven't read so much as one. His most recent, La Jolla Spendrift, was published in 1998.  

Tom Ardies is now in his ninetieth year. Dare I hope for more?

I dare.